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NY Times R&D Lab: Project Cascade

The NY Times R&D Lab has created a new tool that explores how information propagates in social media space. The project is titled Cascade, and its purpose is to analyze the social sharing of news through real time data.  What it does is it creates a time based representation of the NY Time’s news content that is being shared in Twitter’s social space. On the surface, it is a data visualization that allows its viewer to see how news is spread across the network. For example if I come across a news article and tweet it out, someone else may see my tweet and retweet it. This continues and eventually forms a network that shows how a story has spread.

The tool is based on the same concept of information cascade that we learned in class, hence the name project cascade. Information cascade explores how people are influenced by others in a network and why these influences occur. This project attempts to do the same thing with a focus on news articles. Cascade is able to illustrate the connections between readers and publishers and thus can identify the most influential contributors to the conversation. It displays the overall life cycle of a news sharing event and determines which variables most strongly affect clickthrough and retweet trends. As a result, Cascade is able to draw many conclusions on network behavior and gain a better understanding of how news travels through social media.

One of the interesting conclusions from the project is that people with many followers don’t normally generate many retweets. Instead it is the people who are followed by the famous people who drive a lot of retweet activity and cause discussion.  They are called the “deep hidden influencers” within the network who have a strong impact. This shows that the project cascade tool can help us learn much more about the social elements of online news distribution. It is a direct application of information cascade in analyzing the sharing of news across social space. The project is still in its elementary stages, so in further time it is sure to change the way we think about online engagement and social media.



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